Monday, March 26, 2012

Selling out

Around a month ago I was asked to take part in an 'expert panel' alongside three other academics, in different fields than mine. I immediately said yes because starting over in a new country means that you have to expose yourself where you can in order to make sure (the right) people know your name and in the longer run fund your research. Come to think about it, being in academia is not that different from from being an actress/singer, a career I am only too familiar with through my mother. It turned out to be a filmed panel done for commercial purposes and although I paused for a second, the next part made me stay on: I am being paid a good amount of money for my time. So although I got to talk about my research and my opinion on the different topics, I can't help having a feeling that I sold out. But nevertheless, last week I spent half a day in a film studio being interviewed and participating in a panel on topics relating to my own expertise. It was an interesting experience (but not a new one, I have been 'expert' on programs before) and I just hope that it will not be perceived as if I have sold my soul to the advertising devil and that few people will in fact watch this campaign.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Learning to speak two languages

Zoe is so far just bilingual. I speak Danish to her and her dad speaks English to her; she seems to understand both equally well. She attends an English speaking daycare so she is only exposed to Swedish when she interacts with our occasional babysitter and the few Swedish friends we have here. Obviously we will have to make sure she learns Swedish at one point but so far this has worked out well. Since Mark speaks neither Danish, nor Swedish, English is also our home language so I reckon Zoe hears approximately 80 percent English and 20 percent Danish in her everyday life. She now has a speaking vocabulary of around 10-20 words depending on how you count.

One of the things I am most proud of is that her 6th word was "bog", Danish for book. She even says it more clear than any of her other words. Her previous ones were simply mama, dada, baba, aye and no. Not that these are easy to decipher, mama means both mom, mommy's milk and food. Baba means baby but also anything childlike such as dolls, strollers she sees on the street (okay, which probably have a baba in them) and herself. But more specifically, her first words were non-language specific (except for no, which is only English). Even the word for more, "mere" in Danish was some mix, sounding more like "mar". But as she is getting better and picking up more words, very likely in daycare, it is clear that her understanding of language is that we ourselves decide what to call something and that there is no problem in that. She knows that I call it "øre", "næse", "mund", but when I ask her to say it, she says ear, nose, mouth (well more like eaaa, nos and mau). She observes that we use words specific to us, and which she understands, so she simply selects the words she wants to use. It is the meaning that is important, not the actual word.

Like any toddler she says hilarious things, particularly if you ask her mother. My favorite is her utterly surprising exclamation "oh no!" whenever something goes slightly wrong. And things go wrong all the time in her world. She drops a piece of cucumber on the floor (oh no!), she finds a damaged tile on the staircase up to our apartment (oh no!) or she can't find her doll before bedtime ("Zoe, where is your doll?" Oh no!). In fact I have the suspicion that it also means "I don't know" in specific situations. Of all the peculiarities she says, this is the one I hope she keeps the longest because it has such cheer childish innocence to it.

Okay, and then finally, I'm not proud that her 7th word was "mør", smør, which is butter in Danish. She loves her bread with butter in the morning and when I look away she runs her finger through the butter and eats it straight up. If I ask her why there are holes in the butter she looks puzzled at me with her big blue eyes and throws out her arms: Oh no!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Toddler flying tricks

Because I don't want to end up like this family (who I feel utterly sorry for, the flight crew seemed in my opinion to have been the uncooperative ones. The sharp distinction between 23 months and 29 days and 24 months and 2 days means that you have to give a bit of leeway to the toddlers that are this age. If not the airline needs to make a rule that children between 2 and 3 cannot travel. It is that simple), I have several tricks that I use and occasionally forget to use when flying with Zoe. She is still a lap infant and due to airlines' wide interpretation of lap-riding rules I am prepared to be flexible. Generally, discount airlines tend to make guidelines into strict rules so for example even though there was an empty seat next to me on the flight back from Copenhagen, I was told that Zoe had to sit on my lap with the extension belt on take off and landing.  The ironic part of course being that if I had paid for that seat she would have had to sit in it. Regardless of her 22 months of age. Scandinavian Airlines always let me choose.

In an aim to be a bit structured, here are a few of my best tricks in absolutely no particular order:
  1. I still don't ever bring a stroller. If I need one at my destination I check it in, covered in a thick stroller bag cover. Our Bugaboo Bee has been on 10+ flights and still works great and looks flawless. Most airports have some sort of baggage carts and if the cart doesn't have an infant seat I am able to place Zoe on the suitcase with her feet resting on my smaller bag. This is of course completely unsafe and cannot be recommended... Most of the times though she likes to walk and I make sure to have plenty of time before and between planes. I can still fit her on my back in the Beco (a soft structured baby carrier) but it is getting harder to get her up there because I need a chair for her to stand on to get up and with bulky coats it is hard to tighten. But she still loves it and it is convenient for small walks between train and plane. 
  2. Over the winter I don't put neither snowsuit nor boots on her for the trip. She gets a bit cold on the 5 minute walk to the train station but this is nothing compared to having to take a bulky snowsuit off her and try to maneuver it into a suitcase along the way. She travels in a hooded sweater and her indoor shoes which are perfect for walking in an airport and easy to get on and off for security.
  3. Before, I tried to travel around Zoe's bedtime so she would be alert and awake, especially if my flights were short. More recently I have embraced the trick and fly exactly when she usually takes a nap or goes to bed. Last time this worked like a charm; she might not take as long a nap as she would usually but it is so much easier to sit with a sleeping baby than a restless one who thinks that our neighbor's magazine is very interesting. 
  4. The inflight security chart is always great reading material. It has the key ingredients in a good book according to Zoe: babies. There is always a couple of pictures of babies putting on life vests and we make up stories of why they are going on the slide and how they get the door open. Seriously, better than a book.
  5. Bring 'nacks' (i.e. snacks). If forgotten, buy miniature Lindt chocolates that can be carefully unwrapped and eaten slowly. Okay, that box was 100 Skr (app $15) but it will last at least a couple of journeys. Yes, I am that kind of mom who gives my daughter quality chocolate for plane journeys. Obviously she gets only apples and dry wheet crackers at home.
  6. Talk to her about the actual journey before and during the trip. We have a book called 'Going on a Plane' that describes the activities around flying and although it is not by any means great story telling, it does go over the key things. I know that she recognizes things by now and she is learning to queue up going into the plane. This journey she walked proudly onto the plane herself and turned into the (still open) cockpit to the obvious amusement of the crew. "Are you going in to say hi?" was the casual response and I was happy they seemed so relaxed about it. I let her walk down the aisle on the plane and she walked as long as I encouraged her. She crawled into our window seat herself and waited for me to take her onto my lap. She seems very comfortable with the whole process by now.
  7. Pick a window seat. There is no way Zoe would sit in an aisle seat without trying to get out. The fact that there is a stranger, and often two, between her and "freedom", means she has no choice. The window also provides great entertainment on take off and landing. That said, I have a very hard time getting her to sit on my lap with the extension belt (a European standard) because she is leaning on my buckle, which is probably hurting. I usually turn my buckle to the side, effectively making my own seat belt useless but with the other option being a screaming, kicking toddler, that it the safest thing to do. Another thing that I am seriously thinking of doing is lying: The crew in the air has no idea if you have bought a seat (if there is an empty one next to you) or not unless the plane is completely full, so when Zoe is 2, and if she is having a bad day where she needs to sit on my lap, I'll lie and say she is still a lap infant. That would have saved the poor family.
  8. Security. This is still my least favorite part of flying to use an understatement. Especially here in Scandinavia where people are as unhelpful as a flock of sheep being guided into the fold. The security officer told me twice last time that I could not have Zoe sitting on the edge of the table where he was checking out my stuff ("routine check") even thought that was my only option since in Scandinavia they make you take out your things yourself (here the rules are inverted: the security officers are not allowed to touch your things, you take them out yourself where obviously in the States you are not allowed to touch your stuff if is it being searched). He did make up for it by fetching me a hand luggage cart and I was happy. I was also happy that they are not strict about the individual passing through the metal detector. Sometimes Zoe does not want to wait and run after me, making us go through the arch the same time. Last time I beeped but they only searched me (I would probably have had a fit if they had searched Zoe anyway). I try to talk to Zoe about it and go down on my knees right before we go through the metal detector. "Now Zoe, mom is going through and you wait here. Then Zoe comes over to mommy, okay?" I still fear the day they hold her back because I beeped (which happened to a colleague and her 3 year old son to the horrow of the poor boy).
Our next trip is Helsinki in a couple of weeks. I am flying over alone with Zoe and Mark will fly back with us. He is attending a work meeting and I always wanted to see Finland's capital. The flight is about an hour so no big deal.